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Providing Room for Growth (Sans Micromanaging)

By Kristy King, director of the Learning Resource Center
How parents and guardians can help support their children's development of executive functions.

There is no time like a pandemic to challenge a person’s ability to be a flexible and critical problem solver; it is true for preschoolers, school-age students and adults alike. When we feel that each day is on repeat, we are building a new set of executive functions that we have not needed previously. This is why, at times, it feels so hard.

What are executive functions?

The prefrontal cortex, which is continually building and creating synapses, is responsible for the executive functions of working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility. The neuroplasticity of the brain to develop these skills far into adulthood allows a person to handle the obstacles of life while continuing to persevere with their goals and responsibilities. While our students are building these connections, it is essential to support and encourage their independence to develop these functions.

How can I support my child?
Many parents have expressed that watching their child learn from home has created an environment of micromanaging. When the adults in a child’s life manage each detail, it removes the student’s challenge and limits growth. The overarching question becomes, “How can I support my child without hurting them?”

  1. Hold discussions about your child’s strengths and challenges. As these conversations unfold, explaining “why” it is important to focus on specific areas provides meaning to a student’s work.
     
  2. Encourage your child to develop a plan of action, self-monitor progress and evaluate the plan, which helps create the metacognitive skills required for future success. 

  3. Providing encouragement, rather than saying how it should be done, builds motivation and persistence for a positive mindset.

  4. Offer time to process what your child learned with household members or friends because it allows them to solidify the information for future use.

  5. Promote mindful brain breaks. The synapses needed for memory can tire after only 10 minutes. Taking brain breaks allows the brain to refresh for continued learning. Stepping away from school materials and technology to have healthy movement, nourishment or human connection is imperative for executive functions to grow.

What’s next?
Most importantly, understanding that the development of executive functions can be inconsistent in the best of times, and during a pandemic, this growth is challenged more than ever. Providing grace and room for mistakes for both children and adults will facilitate growth and resiliency that will extend beyond difficult times. Taking the opportunity to foster lifelong learning and strength is one of the best gifts we can give to our students. In the words of a psychologist and research professor, Jack Naglieri, Ph.D., “This pandemic will not last forever, but the lessons we teach our children about how to cope with adversity will last a lifetime.”
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